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He was doing it again.
Since she'd moved in a month ago, Sophie Messina's neighbor had been banging, buzzing and doing Lord knows what in his upstairs apartment, making it completely impossible for her to concentrate.
Didn't he realize some people liked quiet on their weekends? That people had work to do?
Breathing out a determined sigh, she redoubled her efforts. Allen Breckinridge, one of her managing directors, had announced yesterday afternoon that he needed this merger model for a meeting on Tuesday, which meant she needed to review and correct the work her junior analyst sent over this morning before passing the figures along. And, since no report could ever be finalized without repeating the process at least four times, she needed to make her notes quickly. A lot of analysts would be tempted to make nitpicky comments, more to emphasize their involvement than anything, but Sophie preferred to work efficiently. Last thing she wanted was the managing directors thinking she was the kink in the bottleneck. Especially since she planned on being a managing director herself someday. Sooner rather than later too if all went according to plan.
Oh, for crying out loud, what was he doing up there? Kickboxing holes in the wall? She whipped off her reading glasses and tossed them on the dining room table. This was ridiculous. She must have slipped a half-dozen notes under his door asking him to kindly cease and desist whatever it was he was doing. First politely, and then threatening to bring the issue to the co-op owners association, but he'd ignored all of them. Well, no more. This noise was going to stop. Today.
Smoothing back her sleek blond ponytail, she stepped outside into the building entryway and shivered as her bare feet met the wood flooring. Before being renovated into co-op apartments, the building had been a brownstone mansion. For one reason or another, the architects kept the public areas and her apartment as true to the original decor as possible which was why a large and very ornate crystal chandelier hung in the en-tranceway. Sophie had to admit, she loved everything about the nineteenth-century fixtures, from the dark wood molding to the sprawling central stairway with its spindled railings and balustrade. They gave the building an Old World kind of feeling, conjuring up words like historic in her head. Words that implied stability. She liked stability.
She liked tranquility, too. A quality that had been distinctly absent the past four weekends. As she climbed the stairs, she swore the banging grew louder with each step. Did he have to do whatever it was he was doing at the loudest possible volume?
This wasn't how she envisioned her first conversation with a neighbor. Actually, she hadn't planned on having a conversation at all. One of the reasons she moved to the city two decades ago was because you could go months, years even, without exchanging more than a nod and a hello with the people around you. Not that she was antisocial. She just preferred being able to choose who she socialized with. She had too much she needed to accomplish to waste time frivolously. The only reason she even remotely knew this particular neighbor's name was because his mailbox was located next to hers, and she'd needed to know who she should address her letters to. G. Templeton. She'd seen the same name on the side of a pickup truck parked outside. Some sort of contractor, she believed.
Was that what he was doing now? Contracting? Memories of half-finished DIY projects and drunken destruction popped into her brain before she could stop them. What the heck? Buying her own place was supposed to distance her from those days, not bring them racing back. At her age she should be over being plagued by the ghosts of the past. Yet no matter how much she accomplished or worked, they never seemed to completely recede. She could always feel them, lurking, keeping her on guard. In some ways, their insistence was a blessing; they kept her working and focused. Otherwise, she'd still be stuck in some banged-up, roach-infested apartment like the one she grew up in on Pond Street, instead of owning her own brown-stone co-op. A co-op she'd thought would be quiet and tranquil.
By the time she reached the second floor landing, noise punctuating each step, Sophie was thoroughly aggravated. Every bang seemed to reverberate off the fleur-de-lis wallpaper and settle right between her shoulder blades fueling her irritability. Mr. Templeton was going to get an earful, that's for certain. Summoning up every inch of her authoritative demeanor, she knocked on his door. The response was another bang.
Fine. Two could play this game. She pounded back in kind.
"Mr. Templeton," she called sharply.
"Hold on, hold on, I'm coming!" a gruff voice called out. As if he were the one being bothered.
Folding her arms across her chest, Sophie prepared to remind Mr. Templeton about the existence of other residents and the need to respect people's personal solitude, not to mention their right to an undisturbed weekend.
The door opened.
Good God Almighty. Sophie's biting lecture died on her tongue. Standing on the other side of the threshold had to be, hands-down, the most incredible-looking man she'd ever seen. Not cover-model handsomehandsome was far too benign a word anywaybut rugged in a sensual way with smooth tanned skin and a square-cut jaw. A slightly too-long nose kept his face from being overly perfect and yet on him the feature fit. Strong men demanded strong features and this, Sophie could tell, was definitely a strong man. He had hair the color of dark honey and eyes that reminded her of caramel candy. Not to mention a chest custom-built for splaying your hands against.
He was also at least a decade younger than she was, and holding a sledgehammer, the obvious source of her disturbance. Both realizations quickly brought Sophie back to earth. She lifted her jaw, once again prepared to complain.
"Mr. Templeton?" she repeated. Just to be certain.
The caramel eyes made a slow sweep of her from head to toe. "Who wants to know?"
If he thought the open assessment would unnerve her, he was mistaken. She'd been fending off harassing looks since college graduation. None of them as blatant or as smoldering perhaps, but she'd fended them off nonetheless. "I'm Sophie Messina from downstairs."
He nodded in recognition. "The lady who writes the notes. What can I do for you, Mrs. Messina?"
"Miss," she corrected, although she wasn't quite sure why, or why she didn't say "Ms."
Biceps rippled as he propped the hammer against the frame and folded his arms, mimicking her stance. "Okay, what can I do for you, Miss Messina?"
Sophie was pretty certain he already knew. "You've been doing a lot of banging lately."
"Renovating," he replied. "I'm gutting the main bathroom, getting her ready to install a claw-foot tub."
"Interesting." The image momentarily distracted her. Rough and rugged didn't go with claw-footed baths.
She smoothed her hair, as much to rein in her thoughts as to keep the unruly strands in line. "Well, I'm trying to build a financial model for a potential acquisition."
He drew his lips together. They were nice-shaped lips, too. "Financial model, did you say?"
"Yes. I'm an investment analyst. For Twamley Greenwood," she added, figuring the prestigious name might emphasize the project's significance.
"Good for you." Clearly, her employer credentials didn't impress him. "What would you like me to do?"
Wasn't the request obvious? Stop making so much blasted noise. "I wonder if you wouldn't mind keeping it down. Your loud banging makes concentrating difficult."
"Little hard to bang any softer," he drawled in reply. "By nature banging is a loud activity. Even the wordbang" he let the word burst loudly from his lips "implies as much."
Sophie gritted her teeth. She knew that condescending tone. He wasn't taking her complaint seriously. "Look," she said, drawing herself up to her full five feet and five inchesa meaningless gesture since he still had at least a half a foot on her. "I've asked you several times if you could please keep the noise down."
"No, you've slid notes under my door commanding me to 'cease and desist.' You haven't asked me anything."
"Fine. I'm asking you now. Could you please keep the noise down?"
"Sorry." He shook his head. "No can do."
No? "No?" she repeated.
"Told you, I'm gutting the bathroom. Do you have any idea what that entails?"
"Yes," she replied. Visions of those biceps swinging a sledgehammer came to mind.
"You sure? Because if you don't" a gleam entered his brown gaze "you're welcome to come in for a demonstration. Maybe even do a little swinging yourself."
"II" Was he flirting with her? The audacity had her speechless. The image of those muscular arms didn't help, either.
Taking a deep breath, more to regain her mental purchase than anything else, she tried again. Blunter this time. "Look, Mr. Templeton, I have a lot of work to do"
"So do I," he interrupted. He shifted his weight again, biceps rippling a little more. Challenging her or trying to distract her, Sophie wasn't sure. He was succeeding in doing both. "It's Saturday afternoon, not the middle of the night, and last time I looked, renovating my home, on my weekend, was completely acceptable.
If the banging bothers you so much, I suggest you go build your model somewhere else."
That wasn't the point. Sure, she had a nice big office in the financial district where she could work, but Sophie didn't want to go into Manhattan. What good was owning your own home if you had to twist your life around others' wishes, and besides, she shelled out a lot of hard-earned money for this place. If she wanted to work at home, by God, she should be able to.
Which begged the question of how a guy his age managed to buy into this address in the first place. It had taken her twenty years of saving and paying off her education loans before she accumulated a sizable down payment. Maybe he didn't mind having debt the way she did. Or he was a closet millionaire. But then why would he be redoing his apartment by himself on weekends?
Never mind; she didn't really care. She just wanted to get back to work. "I would agree with you if we were talking about one afternoon, but we're talking every afternoon for a month. That's a lot of gutting."
"What can I say?" he answered with a shrug. "I've got a lot of renovation to do."
He was purposely ignoring her point. Sophie couldn't help noting her analysts would never get away with copping such an attitude. Maybe this confrontation would go better if she'd approached him when dressed more professionally. She'd be the first to admit her cotton skirt and Polo shirt didn't scream authority. Casual clothes tended to make her look girlish.
Still, she tried, jutting her chin and mustering her sternest voice. A take-no-excuses tone she'd perfected over the years. "What about the other tenants? How do they feel about all these renovations?"
He shrugged again. "No one's complained so far."
"You're the only one."
Sophie smoothed her ponytail. Time to make him take her complaints seriously; show him she meant business. "Perhaps when I bring this up to the building association you'll hear differently."
"Oh, right. I forgot your last note threatened to contact the association."
At last, maybe they were getting somewhere. "Glad to see you read them. I'm sure you'd prefer not to make this a big, official issue."
"I would, except for one thing." The gleam reappeared in his eye. "I'm the association president."
He had to be kidding.
"The other tenants didn't want to be bothered with building maintenance issues so they gladly let me handle everything," he continued. He unfolded his arms, jamming one hand in his back pocket and letting the other rest off the hammer handle. "Come to think of it, that's probably why they don't mind the banging."
"Unbelievable," Sophie muttered.
"Not really. Not when I'm the best person for the job. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some tiles I need to take down." He reached for the door.
"Wait!" She shoved her bare foot forward to block the door. Thankfully he noticed. "What about the banging? What am I supposed to do until you're finished?"
"The store around the corner sells noise-canceling headphones. If I were you, I'd consider checking them out."
Sophie barely had time to slide her foot back before the door slammed in her face.